I'm planning to plant a chestnut orchard, but I am having trouble choosing the cultivars to plant. I plan to order from Burntridge or Washington Chestnut Co., or a combination of the two. Trees are 20-28$ each for grafted.
I'm planning to stick to grafted european and euro/japanese hybrids, no seedlings.
I don't want to plant chinese or any hybrid chinese that produce pollen, My area doesn't have the blight, and has cool summers and sub-optimal sun so chinese are unlikely to produce much.
I am planning to plant american and hybrid american chestnuts in another location - this area is just for nut production and having a wide variety of cultivars.
A little info about my site - I'm on a shelf that juts out of a north-facing slope in western Wa, with gravelly clay-loam that drains well. I have the option to put in irrigiation and add good soil to the site at planting and over time. The main issue is sun - basically none in the winter, some in fall and spring, and perhaps 6 hours in summer.
I am not looking for industrial nut production - a moderate amount would make me happy, and i would like the trees to grow well and be able to take cuttings. A reliable producer for a cool, short season would perhaps be better than a variety that can produce high volumes but only in a fertile, sunny floodplain.
Additionally, i am trying to decide on planting location. I have a flat patch that gets the best sun, and directly north of that a 30 degree north facing slope that drops about 30 feet.
I would plant the chestnuts on the flat, but as they get large they will then eventually shade the slope and make it unusable for anything that is not shade - tolerant.
I figured on the slope, the chestnuts would eventually "reach up" over the edge by growing upwards, since they will eventually be 60 feet plus, and get the light that way for nut production.
If i do this i may plant Hazelnuts south of them on the flat piece of land since they are short and wouldn't create too much issue shading what's behind them.
Do you think the chestnuts would survive and grow well enough to reach up over the edge? Would they be likely to produce at that point? Or should i sacrifice the slope, find somewhere else for hazelnuts, and plant the chestnuts up on the flat to begin with?
Below are the varieties I'm considering at the moment, if anyone has any experience with these, good or bad, please let me know. I'm trying to narrow my choice down to perhaps 10 or so due to cost. If you see a variety not on the list that you would or would not recommend, please let me know as well!
Marron Di Chuisa Pesio
Marron Di Val Di Susa
Marron Du Var
Bouche De Betizac
I recently found a source of seed chestnuts from only about 15 minutes away from my site, who grows a wide variety of cultivars. I could grow each individual tree for less than a dollar myself, versus 20 dollars plus per tree.
My main concern is genetic diversity, and this seed source would allow me that at a much lower cost. However, i don't and won't know the quality of the seedlings until about 15 years down the road. I also don't know which cultivar each chestnut is from, nor which pollinated it.
I could potentially get scionwood and graft cultivars that i want onto these seedlings that i grow myself, but there are low success rates for chestnuts and after all the trouble it may not be worth it in the end.
I can also essentially get an unlimited supply of seedlings from my own mature cultivar trees in abut 5 years, rather than needing to wait and see what the quality is like and potentially cut down a tree i cared for over 15 years.
Any opinions? It looks like perhaps $450 to get 20 4 ft tall grafted cultivar trees, or $50 for a couple hundred seedlings i grow my own that would probably get a foot tall after a year.
Deer browse is also a consideration, the taller trees may mean 2 or 3 years less of fencing necessary around the trees.
First off, there is no part of the USA that does not have the chestnut blight spores in the soil, that is why there are no 200 year old chestnut trees growing in the USA.
I would plant seeds density is key here plant them around 2 foot apart or even closer. As they grow up you will find the ones that are prone to blight and you can get rid of those, you will still have many trees growing up.
As they get older, you can pick the ones that start producing nuts sooner or select for larger nuts or both.
You will end up with some trees failing, those are the weak ones and they will go all on their own, or you can use the chain saw to select instead of letting nature do that for you.
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It's my understanding that the chestnut blight has so far not made it west of the Rockies, that's why nurseries anywhere east of the Rockies can't ship chestnuts to the west coast. There aren't any 200-year-old chestnuts out west because they aren't native out there, all of them have been planted since the settlement of the area, but there are some over 100 years old. The national champion American Chestnut is in Oregon, this site lists it as 106 ft tall, 219 in circumference, and 70 ft crown spread.
American chestnuts are native to the eastern USA. At one time they comprised over 25% of the forest tree species along the East coast. It is said that a squirrel traveling from Maine to nearly Florida could do so and only touch the branches of a chestnut tree. What a shame that they died out. The reason that Am chestnuts are found out west and in the upper midwest is because of settlement of the areas over a hundred years ago. Many pioneers brought chestnuts along to eat on the trip and also to plant at their new home. The reason that you dont see 200 year old chestnuts is because they weren't planted in a blight free area out of the natural range 200 years ago.
Side note on the Chestnuts. I was blessed to have my Great grandfather around until I was about nine or ten years old. I remember hearing him tell of taking the family wagon up in the mountains and filling the bed of it full with chestnuts in a matter of a few minutes. WOW!!
Good on you for planting Am chestnut cultivars and not planting chinese chestnuts. If you've never eaten an Am. chestnut you are in for a treat when you do. In my opinion they are much sweeter than any other I have had.
Robert, did you decide on which cultivators to get? I'm looking at getting some chestnuts, too, but I can't decide on which trees to get! We both have pretty similar sites, though I recall yours is even more shades and steep than mine--I'd love to know which varieties you went with!
I never did end up finding out which cultivars to get - all of the info I could find was primarily about the nut characteristics - nothing about shade tolerance of specific cultivars or anything to that effect.
I did, however, rule out Chinese due to their necessity of high heat to ripen nuts. I'm planning to stick with European and European x Japanese Hybrids.
I would have simply gotten them all, in that case, but chestnuts are notorious for their grafts failing after a few years and a once healthy, happy young tree dying back and reverting to it's rootstock.
However, I DID find a solution that works for me - I was luck enough to find a local chestnut orchard with lots of mature European chestnut cultivars, so I bought about 30 lbs of nuts a couple of months back and I am germinating my own to use as root stock!
My plan is to then order scions from Burnt Ridge nursery in about two years and try my hand at grafting them myself.
For grafting chestnuts, Washington Chestnut Company has a great amount of info, which basically culminates to if you try to graft a cultivar from the one species (casteana sativa in this case) on to the same species of root stock, if your first fails then try another cultivar, and if that one fails try yet another cultivar, you will probably be successful by the third try. Since I'm in no rush, I can plant out the orchard and just keep trying to graft them until I'm successful and have the cultivars I want.
One thing I read which I now have discovered to be untrue is that "chestnuts have an extremely low germination rate."
Just like black walnuts, apparently :p
Well, so far at least half of my nuts have germinated, which means I will soon have A LOT of extra chestnut seedlings to deal with, since I will only need +-40 trees for the orchard area.
However, in doing further research, I discovered that chestnuts are also extremely useful trees for wood production in the form of coppice.
In Europe, chestnuts are trypically grown on north facing slopes (and oaks are grown on the south) and they can be cut roughly every 10 years for firewood, 20 years for fencing or every 50 years for timber. They then re sprout vigorously from the cut stump. There are individual European chestnut trees (called stools) that are thousands of years old after being repeatedly coppiced for many generations in this way, ever since the Romans brought chestnuts to Great Britain. They sprout very similarly to our native Bigleaf Maple that I'm sure you're familiar with.
So I plan to use these extra seedlings on part of my steep slope in order to make some good use out of the otherwise unusable site that is currently just alder scrub. They may fruit a bit but not much, but the deer will certainly appreciate anything that comes down!
Chestnuts also produce almost all heartwood very quickly, which is extremely rot resistant and can be used for long-term fencing without any further treatment! I encourage you to search for the UK government's information on Chestnut coppices, it was very informative!
Oh! One final very important thing I also learned - there is a general rule of thumb among chestnut orchardists. All site characteristics equal, any chestnut tree (including seedling trees!) will produce roughly the same amount of nuts by weight. The reason we have cultivars is primarily to ensure that that weight consists of fewer, larger nuts, because that is what has become desireable for the consumers (and it's easier for harvesting and processing.) However, if selling them is not a concern and you want the trees for their calories, a few seedling trees are just as able to serve your needs. (people also say that the samller nuts tend to be sweeter) I plan to run pigs through my orchard to clean up the leftover nuts some day, and I doubt those consumers will be too picky about the size of the nuts, and neither will the deer!
Thank you, Robert! That was extremely helpful for me. I ended up getting Whitten South chestnut (as Burnt Ridge said it would be the best fit for my property, and because I really liked the idea of having an American hybrid on my property). I also got two seedling Precoce Migoule chestnuts, as they are a short-season variety that doesn't need much heat. I don't get heat here, and since the longer-sun days take longer to happen on my property (due to the trees and the slope) it seems that short-season varieties are the ones that do best here (I always try to pick annuals that have the shortest season because otherwise they just don't ripen/mature in time!). After ordering that from Burnt Ridge, I received an email from Washington Chestnut Company saying that Precoce Migoule and Basalta #3 would be the only one of their trees that would do well, so I'm doubly glad I'd picked that Pecoce Migoule!
Knowing that a seedling would produce just as much as a grafted tree was such helpful knowledge. Burnt Ridge has seedling Precoce Migoule (and some other varieties) for only $4-6! So, I got two. Since they are seedlings sprouted from chestnuts, I'm hoping they'll be able to pollinate each other and hopefully the Whitten South, too. I was very torn between just getting seedlings or also getting the $20 grafted Whitten. But we really wanted to support the American chestnut. And, I'm hoping that between the three threes, one of them will at least be a good producer on my shady property! (I'm also thinking that the seedlings will probably be healthier, there won't be a graft to fail. As I don't know how to graft, it was really useful to know that their grafts tend to fail--that's definitely not something I want to deal with!)